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Arabic words and phrases

Popular Arabic words and phrases for Dubai expats

With expatriates in the United Arab Emirates outweighing nationals and making up 85% of the workforce in Dubai, it's no wonder that you can go for days without listening to any native Arabic being spoken.

Even the expat individuals and families who've lived here for years or decades still don't understand enough Arabic to follow a conversation. When asked about it, they claim that they never felt the need to learn Arabic. Even third culture kids and expat children who were born and educated in the UAE don't know Arabic.

Despite Arabic being the most widely spoken Semitic language in the world, the preferred language for expats is English. That said, most expats living in the Middle East learn a few common words and phrases that they use every now and then in their conversation.

Below is a list of 20 popular Arabic words and phrases almost all expats in Dubai know and use, or should learn.

1. Khallas (pronounced ka-las)

Khallas means 'finished'. It can also mean stop, end, enough etc. It's one of those words that can be and is used in every situation.

Example: Khallas! I'm done talking about this.

2. Maafi Mushki (pronounced mar-fi moosh-key-la)

Another Arabic term that's used often. It means 'no problem'.

People say it when you thank them, when you ask them for a favour or make a request.

Example: Sorry about being late. Response: Maafi mushkil!

3. Habeebi/Habeebti (pronounced ha-bee-bee/ha-beeb-tee)

Habibi in Arabic means 'my love' and is often used in conversation, both formally and informally. It's one of those words to learn as it can be used in any situation — when genuinely calling someone a friend, when fighting or even when being sarcastic!

If you are addressing a female you would say ‘Habeebti’. The closest English word to Habeebi/habeebti I've come across is 'buddy' or 'my dear'.

Example: Thanks, habeebi!

Example 2: Get out of my face, habeebi.

4. Hala (pronounced ha-la)

Hala is considered an informal or slang way to say hello. If you need help to remember this one, think of it as the equivalent of 'Holla!'.

Example: Hala! How's it going?

5. Assalam Alaikum (pronounced ass-a-lam al-eye-kum)

Assalam Alaikum is a formal greeting in Arabic. It means 'Peace be upon you'.

Example: Assalam Alaikum! How are you?

6. Walaikum Assalam (pronounced wal-eye-kum ass-a-lam)

Walaikum Assalam means '…and Peace be upon you too' and is said in response to Assalam Alaikum.

Example: Walaikum Assalam! I'm fine, thanks. How are you?

7. Insha'Allah (pronounced in-shar-ah-la)

Insha'Allah is one of those words that is used in abundance in conversations all over Dubai irrespective of whether it's a local, expat, arabic or non-arabic speaking person.

Insha'Allah means 'God willing' or 'If God wills it'.

Example: I'll see you tomorrow, Insha'Allah.

8. Masha'Allah (pronounced mash-ar-ah-la)

Explaining the meaning of Masha'Allah is a little difficult as it's used in myriad ways. The closest translation is 'God has willed it'.

It's mostly commonly said when admiring or praising something.

Example: Oh Masha'Allah! That's great!

9. Ahlan Wa Sahlan (pronounced ah-lan wa sar-lan)

Ahlan Wa Sahlan is probably the first phrase expats hear when landing in Dubai. It means welcome.

This is not the welcome one says in response to 'thank you' though. This is used in response to welcoming someone in your home, party or country etc.

Ahlan Wa Sahlan is usually used as a stand alone phrase.

10. Marhaba (pronounced mar-ha-ba)

There are a number of words for saying hello in Arabic. Marhaba is one of them.

Example: Marhaba! How are you?

11. Masalamah (pronounced mass-a-lar-ma)

Masalamah means 'goodbye' in Arabic. While there are other words that mean goodbye too, this one is the easiest to learn.

Example: See you later. Masalamah!

12. Shukran (pronounced shook-ran)

If you want to say 'Thank you' or 'Thanks' in Arabic, Shukran is the word you want to use.

And should you want to say 'No, thanks.' in Arabic, say 'La, shukran'.

Example: Shukran! That's very kind of you.

Example 2: La shukran, I don't want any.

13. Mabrook (pronounced ma-brook)

If you want to say congratulations to someone in Arabic, say 'Mabrook'.

Example: Mabrook! I'm so happy for you!

14. La afham (pronounce la af-am)

La afham means 'I don't understand'. It's also useful to learn for when you run into someone who only speaks Arabic and you have difficulty communicating.

Example: Sorry, la afham.

15. Min Fadlak (pronounced min fad-lak)

If you ever want to say please in Arabic, say Min fadlak. Keep in mind though that the pronunciation changes a bit when addressing a female.

If you're saying please in Arabic to a female, say Min Fadlik.

How to use these words in your conversations

The above words and phrases are ones that get their message across even if you say them without attaching them to a sentence. Even then, if you're unsure of how to use them in your conversation, pay attention to how other people use these words in their sentences. It shouldn't take you long to figure out what context to use them in!

From souks and supermarkets to finding work or a place to live, our in-depth destination guide has everything you need to know about life in the UAE.

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